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How to Learn Chinese 1-General Discussion-How to memorize Chinese character?

From mengda: Hello Xiaomin, this is Mai Mengda, senior beginner learner of Chinese. I am at midst of my first semester. Can you or anybody of the group suggest how could i do to not forget how to write a character?. The very few words i know forget quite easy. Of course, the obvious advice will be practicing …but practicing in what way?…repeating the character many times?..by sentences??..Thanks for your advice.


  1. Menda

    Firstly I would think about what it means to learn a character. I have made the decision to not learn to **write** chinese. Largely because I hardly ever now **write** English. Most communication I make is at a keyboard of some kind. I only ever use a pen to make notes at meetings.

    Therefore, I then think, how to **recognize** characters. Firstly what does recognize mean? Essentially, for a fully competent chinese learner, it means to be able to distinguish a character from all others (all 4000 or more of them). However, in practice that is not a sensible ambition.

    Rather think firstly 1) how to recognize the most important and 2) how to distinguish the ones I know from the ones I don’t know.

    Recognizing a character is about recognizing some salient features of it. Of these, probably the most important to start learning are all the radicals (there are a number of books which could help – look up “The Most Common Chinese Radicals” on Amazon, as well as “China Empire of Living Symbols” – both of these books cover the radicals very well.

    Just being able to grasp these, gives you an immediate handle on learning a new character.

    Once you’ve done that, then, for me at least, its Flash Cards – I have written my own software to help me in that way, but there are plenty of examples available for computers and the IPhone.

    Finally I would say, make a regular practice of writing Chinese at a computer. I use


    to write whatever I want, largely because it is an editor with a dictionary built in – which means you can type in a character, and if you are not sure it is the right one, then you can quickly put it in the dictionary and you will get back a translation.


  2. edit: when I said
    “2) how to distinguish the ones I know from the ones I don’t know.”
    I mean
    “2) how to distinguish the ones I know from the other ones I know”
    sorry about that!

  3. Hi Mengda,

    I am focusing mainly on conversational Chinese at the moment because I am short of time.

    When I had more time to study I used a combination of techniques from books I read on accelerated learning and information I found in the following books.

    fun with Chinese characters I
    Fun with Chinese characters II
    teach yourself beginners Chinese script
    500 basic Chinese characters

    1. Learn the basic strokes
    2. Sometimes you can link the meaning to the shape of the character
    3. understand how the character formed over time
    4. learn the radicals so you understand the different parts
    5. A system of reviewing, learn say 5 characters, review them tomorrow and then in 3 days, 1 week, etc…
    6. use them in different ways, eg learn 5 characters, next day write a sentence linking all 5 together.
    7. I used a multi-sensory approach. I would say the character out loud as I am writing it and visualising what it means. Or speak out loud and visualise the meaning while drawing it in the air with my finger.

    Hope this helps. Like you say it is a lot about practice but the key is to make the practice fun! relax, enjoy and keep at it!

  4. Dear Steve and Leigh:

    First of all sorry for my late reply especially to Steve who promptly answered my comment. On the other hand, to you both my thanks for useful comments, websites, methods, books, etc.

    I was in fact afraid my problem was too naive.

    Just another good friend, suggested me http://www.skritter.com/
    whose functionality is in same aspect as Leigh says. Maybe you know this website. However, I write this in case visitors want have a look. Eventually I will try it later but not now.
    Have you ever tried it??

    Thanks again, I am going to use your advices and tell later my experiences or any information I think is useful. Now, need to practice because we are so close of finals and I am delayed !!

    See you next time (xiaci jian??)

  5. I’d also recommend McNaughten & Li’s ‘Reading & Writing Chinese’ which helps you to understand the composition of a character. It’s much easier to learn something when it appears to have some sort of logic, even when that logic is very far removed from anything familiar to a Westerner.

    There’s also a Peking University book called The Composition of Common Chinese Characters An Illustrated Account which gives a good guide to the history of the composition of characters. If you’re in Beijing you’d get it at the Wangfujing Bookstore.

    There’s also something to be said for that traditional Chinese method – constant repetition. It can be therapeutic!

  6. One resource you can use are PinIn fonts. These show the Chinese character with PinIn above it. I bought DynaFonts TT 28 Chinese Printing Fonts which include some PinIn fonts.

    You can easily create an animated Powerpoint slide that first shows the Chinese character for a few seconds and then shows the character in PinIn font. It isn’t foolproof because some characters have multiple pronunciations. However I have found it very helpful for remembering characters.

    Once you have set up a Powerpoint slide master, adding a new slide is as simple as pasting in the new character. An example presentation is here: https://skydrive.live.com/redir.aspx?cid=083f9dfac9dde387&resid=83F9DFAC9DDE387!303&parid=83F9DFAC9DDE387!136&authkey=!ADlP8Hwpac387Fc . You must have the DFPHei-W5J-Pinyin1 font installed on your PC for it to work properly.

    You can improve the presentation by having the slides appear in random order using this utility: http://www.tushar-mehta.com/powerpoint/randomslideshow/

  7. There is no really easy way to learn characters. Each one has to be memorized. However, here are some pointers to help you.
    1 If you try to imagine a character as a picture, or if you know the origins of a character, it makes it easier to remember.
    2 There are about 200 small components of characters, called “radicals.” Each character includes a radical. The radical can give a clue to meaning. For example, 鸟niao3, meaning “bird,” is radical and any character that contains 鸟has something to do with birds(e.g., 鸡ji1 means “chicken”).
    3 It is best to learn characters gradually and to keep testing yourself and revising.

    I am also trying to find out the best way to learn characters.

  8. As the radical can give a clue to meaning, maybe we can start from radicals. Here is the 15 most common radicals to help you to remember more characters.
    Looking forward to your feedback 🙂

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